Sunday, October 26, 2008

Agent vs. Literary Lawyer

I get asked a lot to recommend an agent. I'm really loathe to do that. Here's why: I've been on the agent hunt for 15 years. *shudder* I signed with my first agent in 1994, before I joined RWA (Romance Writers of America.) I thought I was smart. I did my homework. I went to the library's reference desk and I borrowed The Literary Market Place. Then I went through the listings of agents. Targeted agents who were looking for what I wrote at the time-single title historical romance. I dismissed any who charged a fee. Then I picked my top five picks and sent out queries or partials based on their listed preferences.

One of these agents turned me down but suggested I join RWA-an organization I had never heard of, but was happy to join. After several rejections, and a spattering of requests for full, on a happy June day I signed with an agent. There was much jumping up and down and excitement. I knew I would be published any minute. She told me she had five readers read the manuscript and all loved it. All I had to do now was wait... and wait... while she moved offices-three times, lost my manuscript twice. I wrote two other 500 page manuscripts during the time she sent me three rejections from publishers. When she lost my manuscripts for the fourth time, I fired her. No, she never sold the book. But I was now part of RWA and I was learning a lot.

After two or three more years and six manuscripts, I tried again to find an agent. (After all who doesn't want to be able to say I went to lunch with my agent. Glamourous, isn't it?) This time armed with an RWA approved list and a LMP current list. I once again got a "love it" call from an agent. Before I signed I asked her some serious questions. Her answers were-shall I say- disappointing. She was not above underhanded tactics and felt they were common place. I couldn't do it. So, I did not sign. Surely, I thought if she loved the work, someone else would...

Three years later, I sold seven books on my own. No need for an agent.

Still every couple of years I think I could sell to a "bigger" publisher if only had an agent... (If you look at the RWA list, there are only three or four publishing houses that take unagented work.) So I send out queries.

Two years ago I was called by a very famous NY Agent. We set up a meeting at the RWA National conference. I was so delighted. This was my shot. She *loved* the book. She was talking auction! She wanted my photo full size on the back- every writer's dream. Then reality set in. While I signed my agreement and sent it right in- I never did get a copy of the fully signed agreement-even after a year of monthly reminders. It took her seven months to send the book out to publishers and after four rejections...she simply quit returning my calls. I fired her on the one year anniversary. Sigh.

Since then I've sold two more books on my own and listened to other multi-published authors tell their tales of agent woes. (Now, don't get me wrong, for every tale of woe there is an author who *loves* her agent. She has an agent who really sells her, looks out for her best interest and grows her career. Lucky...)

A multi-published author I know has quit looking for agents. She simply sells her own books to editors. Then she pays a literary lawyer to read the contract and negotiate the fine points in her favor. The lawyer is paid by the hour-not a percent of the royalty. This appeals to me. After all, so far in my career I've been the only one able to successfully sell my books. While it would be seventh heaven to have an agent who is a career coach, a lawyer, and an advocate, that just hasn't happened for me. Maybe, just maybe that's okay.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


I just realized that this week's blog-"Interesting Findings" (See below) completely negates my earlier rant on social networks and joining reader groups to "friend" someone for publicity's sake.

Now to be fair, I have only "friended" people I know or am in a group with-so no massive "friending" going on. And I do not send out "read my latest book" bulletins, and other advertisements as some authors do. But- I have to admit the advice was right. (Yes,shudder I've gone over to the dark side.) Social networks-used responsibly-do work as a way to draw readers to your website and ultimately your books.

Interesting Findings

There are plenty of so called "marketing experts" in the writing business, who give advice especially when it comes to web or word of mouth marketing. I've gathered up a lot of their advice and have been applying it to my marketing efforts- with some results that my interest you.

First off-experts agree that you should have a blog so that people can find you in the blog-o-sphere-listen to your writing voice and ideas and to build a community of readers around you and your work. This has proven successful for a couple of very famous authors. Also, if you comment on other people's blogs you get more hits in the search engines. In other words if someone types your name into Google-there are more positive results. The theory is that the more positive results, the more people talk; the more people talk, the more positive results until everyone knows your name or wants to know your name.

Second you should join as many social networks as possible so that people can find you if they are looking for you, friend you, and you can easily notify people of your book announcements, reviews and accomplishments.

I decided early on that my goal is to build a community around my website. ( I moved my daily blog to my website. I want people to keep coming back to my website for daily blogs, writing articles, reviews and free reads (I have the first chapter of my latest book posted there if you are interested.) I found this successful as the number of daily hits on my website grew. I kept this Sunday blog so I could travel about the blog-o-sphere and read what others were writing and post comments-thus increasing the number of search engine hits on my name. (That said, I have seen no correlation between increased search engine hits and increased website hits.)

Recently I joined Myspace- a social network originally for young kids but now expanded for the world. I am proud to say I have 15 real friends there. It was a couple of days work and a daily on-going search to add friends. But I keep that page as a door to my website-in other words I don't post blogs or reviews or daily musings, instead I ask people to check out my website. Interestingly enough, hits on my website have jumped by a third-just from my efforts in Myspace. Check me out at

Thus, from my early results, it appears that having a page in a social network is more productive then commenting on blogs or increasing the numbers of google hits.

For those of you wondering what works and what doesn't when it comes to book marketing, it appears social networks may be the best place to start. Now I know your next question-does any of this actually sell books?

Time will tell. :)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Marketing 101-sell sheets

Sell sheets are a single page device that every company's marketing department creates to focus their marketing plan. It occurred to me a few years ago that sell sheets are a great tool for writers.

For writers, sell sheets are single page flyers/brochures that sell the audience on their book. I learned a few years back that sell sheets are my friend. I use them to focus my writing and my marketing efforts.

A sell sheet is helpful whether you are published or unpublished. It can be used to focus your plot and help with a sagging middle. It can be used to frame your synopsis and query letter. It can also be used to sell a published work-to readers and book buyers. Blogging? Use the material off your sell sheet. Chats? A sell sheet keeps your message focused. Announcing a new sale or a book release or contest? Use the information off your sell sheet to provide a uniform message.

Even better, a sell sheet can be helpful when making an editor/agent pitch. A proper has all the elements you need to give your sales pitch in any situation.

What do I put on my sell sheet?

To begin with I include the following four written elements:
1) A single sentence describing the story using 15 words or less. (Think NY Times blurb.)
2) A five sentence paragraph where the first sentence gives the background. The next three sentences give worsening conflict and the last sentence asks the story question. (Think back cover blurb.)
3) A Goal, Motivation and Conflict sentence for each of the main characters.
4) A short-less than 250 word- excerpt from the book.

Then I arrange them on the single sheet using eye catching graphics-book cover if you have it and fonts. Be sure to include: your title, subtitle if you have one, ISBN, retail price, number of pages, and availability. Finally-have them professionally printed on high-quality paper.

Taking the time to create a professional sell sheet can help to focus your work, your editorial pitch and your marketing plan into a cohesive message that helps the readers/editors/agents understand your unique story point of view.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Hero's Journey

Every story- whether literary or popular fiction follows a similar path. This path has been defined as "The Hero's Journey." I have been writing for 15 years and I had quite forgotten this little piece of plotting fun until it was mentioned at a writer's critique I attended. I smiled inwardly because I could identify all 17 steps in my current work in progress. The Hero's Journey has become innate in my story telling process.

If you are a beginner or simply haven't heard of this journey you can find a simple list at

Or you can simply google or Yahoo search hero's journey and there are millions of places to find it.

Why bring it up? Because sometimes it's good to refresh your knowledge of the foundations of story telling. I was please to note that my story did indeed start with a 'Call to Adventure" and end with the "Freedom to Live." Not to mention the 15 other steps in between.

People have an idea that story telling-particularly romance stories is easy. These are people who don't understand the work that goes into the structure of the story. Romance stories have twice the work of other genres-for instance thrillers. Why? Because they have twice the plot. First you have to plot what happens to the hero/heroine in their daily lives. Then you have to plot what happens in their romantic lives. Then you get to weave the two plots together to create a romantic story. Yes, it's a lot of work and huge attention to detail. But for me and other romance writers-its actually fun. That's why we do it.

If you are a writer-take a moment and review the hero's journey, you may be surprised at what you do instinctively and what you may have missed. If you're not a writer, but wonder what it takes, look up the hero's journey, read the 17 steps. You just might be impressed at how much work and thought goes into the craft.